Q: How do you know your customers see you as a trusted advisor? I manage a few high-touch customers and they seem happy. But I worry that my perception of the strength of our relationship is different than theirs.
Ahh, the coveted “trusted advisor” status. When I was a CSM, I only reached that status with about 10 customers, whom I can still name a decade later. The first thing I can tell you is it takes a long time to earn that title. It’s a privilege and an honor to be referred to as a trusted advisor, yet I hear people say things like, “Hi my name is (CSP Name) and I am your trusted advisor at (software company)” - sigh.
Here are a few ways my customers have demonstrated that they considered me a trusted advisor:
- I had “real” relationships with various members of their organization, leadership included.
- They came to me for industry advice and not just product advice.
- They were always open and honest with me, even if was something they knew I didn’t want to hear.
- They respected my time; never canceled last minute, always came prepared, stayed engaged the entire time, and always expressed gratitude.
- They treated me as an extension of their team - even inviting me to their team offsites.
- They included me in all partnership discussions. Even when my sales or leadership team left me off an email or didn’t invite me to a call, they would loop me in because they felt that I was a critical part of the discussion.
I’m not saying this is the way to measure it (you don’t need a checklist), but I knew my status based on how they viewed and treated me.
If you want to learn more, please read The Trusted Advisor — It was one of the first books I read as a Customer Success Professional.
Q. I'm responsible for building a CS team in a support-focused department that reports to the CFO. Since this person doesn't represent the "customer", how do you communicate to leadership that CS isn’t support and existing support tools and processes shouldn't be forced onto CS teams?
This is not an uncommon problem. Overall, it all comes down to alignment. Instead of telling them what CS is and what Support is, talk to them about their objectives. Make sure you’re clear on what they are hoping to achieve and why. Only then can you have a strategic discussion about how as an organization you will get there. There are a lot of companies that know they “need” Customer Success but are still unsure why. Perhaps an investor or advisor recommended it. The reality is if they are not clear on their “why”, they will not be able to internalize any of your explanations about the two teams. You have to speak their language to break this barrier.
In regards to support tools not “working” for Customer Success, you have to be able to articulate the objectives of using a CS platform and how your current tech stack falls short in supporting those goals — If you would like to operationalize your CS processes, this is not something a ticketing tool like Zendesk will be able to support.
Education is the best medicine. Deliver your message in a way that’s approachable, actionable, and focused on achieving a shared set of outcomes.
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Q: What advice do you have for someone transitioning from a Sr. CSM into a first-time people management role?
First, CONGRATULATIONS! I remember moving from a high-performing CSP to a Director role. It wasn’t my first time leading people, but it was my first leadership role in Customer Success. I still remember it since I was so excited. Ok enough about me, you want advice, ok.
So here are a few tips to get you started:
- You don’t have to have all the answers. If someone on your team has a question and you don’t know the answer, be truthful about it and seek to get an answer.
- Learn how to delegate; taking everything upon yourself isn’t managing, it’s silly.
- Not everyone will do things the way you did it as an individual contributor. Give your team creative freedom to achieve their objectives.
- Communication is everything! Make sure your communication with your employees is strong and on point.
- Learn to compartmentalize; if you’re in a bad mood, remember the impact it will have on your team.
- As a leader, I like to take all the blame and none of the credit. Remember to promote your team and build them up when they do great work.
- Lead by example, always!
I could go on and on, but these are a few learnings from my first few years of managing. Best of luck and enjoy the ride!